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Behind the camera by Nancy Kolsti
Summer 2007   Go back to bios and film clips >>  


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Behind the Camera



Mika Ferris ('07 M.F.A.) biography

After receiving his bachelor's degree in film studies from the University of California at Santa Barbara, Mika Ferris worked as a freelance camera operator on film crews for nine years. But he kept remembering an undergraduate course he had taken in documentary film and a professor who had produced documentaries.

"I like what the medium allows you to do, and I like smaller production crews," says Ferris, who received his master of fine arts degree in documentary film from UNT in May.

Bramblitt, a film he created as a student, has received numerous awards. The film, which tells the story of UNT English major John Bramblitt and the technique he developed to paint after losing his sight, was a finalist in the 2006 Angelus Awards. The awards honor films that respect the dignity of humans and reflect the triumph of the human spirit. Bramblitt was also a finalist for the top documentary prize at the 2006 NextFrame Student Film Festival. The festival is sponsored by the University Film and Video Association and recognized as the world's premiere festival for showcasing student work.

In addition, Bramblitt received a Special Contribution-Individual award from the Barbara Jordan Media Awards. Presented by the Governor's Committee on People with Disabilities, the awards recognize films, photos, articles and television news stories that accurately and progressively portray people with disabilities.

Ferris created the film after reading a newspaper story about Bramblitt, who became blind in 2001 and began painting a few years later although he'd never taken an art class. Bramblitt begins a painting by using puffy paint to draw an outline of an object and memorizing where the object is on the canvas. After priming the canvas with white latex paint, he feels the raised lines of the paint and paints between them.

"I thought his story was a really great story and would translate into a powerful film," Ferris says. "I wanted to visually illustrate the process that he created to paint. He uses the same technique of memorizing where everything is to help him in his life outside of painting."

Ferris filmed Bramblitt creating a painting of a storm from beginning to end.

"I was surprised to see that he's able to distinguish different colors of paint based on the textures," Ferris says. "He has a great tactile sense."

For his thesis film, Ferris turned to his hometown of New Orleans for a subject. He focused on "Mama Dee" — Dyan French Cole, a longtime activist in New Orleans' Seventh Ward who turned her home into a local office and collection point for the People's Hurricane Relief Fund and Reconstruction Project after Hurricane Katrina.

With his M.F.A. in hand, Ferris planned to return to New Orleans this summer to work in film production and possibly teach. He says he feels he's "progressed as a filmmaker" during his three years in UNT's program.

"We had a tremendous amount of time to be engaged in production and use the equipment. I had a background in the technical aspects of working a camera, but I learned how to be creative," he says.



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